Reporters Without Borders

Last chance for senators to block ban on publishing phone taps

Published on Tuesday 25 May 2010. Updated on Wednesday 26 May 2010.
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Reporters Without Borders reiterates its appeal to Italy’s senators not to pass the phone-tapping draft law, which is about to be approved by the Senate after being passed by the Chamber of Deputies in the last June. This bill would impose jail sentences or heavy fines on journalists and media personnel who publish the content of phone taps (even as summary) for which a judge orders the destruction and even for the publication of some public documents. The draft law forbids also the publication of any news until the end of the investigation and the beginning of the penal trial which means about 3 or 4 years. The bill, moreover, imposes jail sentences on reporters not registered in the “Order of Journalists” who use hidden video camera or audio recorder.

“We urge Italy’s senators to act responsibly and not become accomplices to a repressive law that is completely incompatible with the European democratic standards that parliaments are supposed to embody and guarantee,” Reporters Without Borders said. “What is at stake goes beyond just the national domain. If Italy, a founder member of the European Union, were to approve this bill, it would send a disastrous signal to other countries and would encourage dictatorships to use it as a model for restricting the investigative capacity of their local press with even more dramatic consequences. This aspect of the problem cannot be neglected.

“Telephone taps often constitute the main evidence in support of stories about the problems of corruption and organised crime. You cannot demand that the press provide evidence of what it is claiming and at the same time forbid if from providing its readers with that evidence. The sole practical aim of this bill is to prevent any investigative reporting. It is clear that only the courts can rule on judicial matters. But experience has shown that ‘help from the media’ is often welcome.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “We point out that journalists are not responsible for the content of the phone taps or the scandals that the phone taps expose. The publication of transcripts in the media is not defamatory. It is in the public interest. The jail sentence and the size of the fines that can be imposed is out of all proportion and has to be considered as a real censorship. How many news organisations would dare to carry out this kind of investigative reporting if they knew they were risking this kind of financial bombshell ?”

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